Patrick Bateman, the lead character in American Psycho, walks toward you as a rapid montage of images depicting Medieval-era religious wars between Christians and Muslims flashes in the distance. Madonna’s 2005 chart-topping single “Hung Up” is playing. You see the words “Fight for Glory; Western Man.”
This isn’t a fever dream. It’s a TikTok video with 11,000 views and part of a growing online subculture that’s propping up surging Christian nationalist and Christo-fascist ideology in the United States and beyond.
Christian nationalists believe that their country’s policies and laws should reflect evangelical Christian values, and culture war issues like LGBTQ rights, “critical race theory,” or immigration, are regarded as signs of moral decay that imperil the nation’s future.
Christo-fascists take that one step further, and believe that they’re fighting primordial battles between West and East, good and evil, right and left, Christians and infidels. These two labels, however, sometimes overlap.
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On TikTok, ideologues from both ends of the spectrum are weaving together a shared visual language using 4chan memes, Scripture, Orthodox and Catholic iconography, imagery of holy wars, and clips from movies or TV featuring toxic male characters. Many of the videos, on their face, are innocuous enough, but they exist in close proximity to disturbing, violent, or explicitly white nationalist content.
It’s no accident that this community is expanding on TikTok, of all places, according to Thomas Lecaque, an associate professor of history at Grand View University in Iowa who focuses on apocalyptic religion and political violence. “You build your audience with a young demographic, and then you spread your ideas that way. This is how you build the next generation of fascists,” he said.
The biggest TikTok account in this space was Caitliceach_r, who claims to be based in Ireland and racked up nearly 30,000 followers and over 2 million views since posting their first video last September. TikTok removed the account after VICE News reached out for comment, but another account posting the same content was activated soon after. TikTok says they’re aware that banned users often try to return by creating alternative accounts, and will sometimes take steps to ban a person's device entirely.
“This is how you build the next generation of fascists.”
Instagram and Reddit accounts under the same handle are also still up. (Caitliceach_r did not respond to VICE News’ request for an interview, but one of their TikTok followers told VICE News, “Christians are not to have fellowship with unbelievers. Your propaganda outlet is blatantly antichrist and we seek no part in it.”)
Many of Caitliceach_r’s videos were shared under the #ChristPill hashtag, a play on the #RedPill terminology used to describe a person’s radicalization into the far-right politics and yet another reminder of the ideological proximity between these religious extremists and the “alt-right.”
Their videos, like most others in this genre, stop short of making explicit references to violence, but they incorporate coded allusions to it through imagery of past religious wars or pop-culture references. The result is a murky collection of problematic content where it’s not always easy to tell how far the creator wants their followers to go—which is especially concerning given the uptick in real-world violence committed by Christian nationalists.
Lecaque pointed out one TikTok account that used images from the videogame “Fallout: New Vegas.” “The character that they use is one who engages in religious discourse and leads mass slaughter for his faith,” he said.
Some accounts in this genre identify themselves as “TradCath” (Traditional Catholic); others identify as Orthodox. Some illustrate Bible verses with anime (another reminder of 4chan’s influence), others through an 80s-style vaporwave aesthetic set to deep House music. GIFs of alt-right icon Pepe the Frog even make an appearance at times. Some use incel memes to bemoan what they see as the decline of Christian family values in the West. Some identify themselves as nationalists, while others employ blatantly fascist symbols to signpost their alignment with Christo-fascism.
But while aesthetic choices, denomination, and even political ideology can vary across accounts in this world, they’re linked by fantasies of violence and conflict. The shared message is clear: White Christian identity is under attack and needs to be fought for, through prayer, the ballot box, or even violence.
Back in the real world, acts of political violence are, increasingly, committed in the name of Christian nationalism in the U.S. A report published earlier this year identified Christian nationalism as the most dominant ideology among the mob who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Christian nationalists and Christo-fascists have also targeted LGBTQ pride events and pro-choice protesters in the last month.
TikTok removed accounts flagged by VICE News after a request for comment. “TikTok stands firmly against violence, both online and off,” a company spokesperson said. “We remove content and accounts that seek to glorify or promote violence, violent groups, or militias, and continually look for ways to strengthen our policies and enforcement, and collaborate with experts and civil society organizations. Our goal is to foster a welcoming and safe place for creative expression and entertainment."
It’s also worth noting that this subculture is distinct from the world of Christian TikTok influencers, though curious travelers could easily find themselves submerged in Christo-fascist or Christian nationalist content if they were searching hashtags like #Orthodox or #Catholic.
Caitliceach_r has played an important role in tightening bonds between other “Christian TikTok” users, as they describe the genre, by regularly sharing videos promoting other accounts in this space. Of the 55 accounts recommended by Caitliceach_r over the course of a six-part video series, it was unclear where about half of them were based.
The majority of accounts reviewed by VICE News don’t have any faces or clear identities attached to them, and they claim to hail from the U.S., Australia, England, Hungary, Macedonia, and other countries in Europe. Only two of those 55 accounts, one from Azerbaijan and another from Germany, posted videos in their native language. Some accounts have aligned themselves with Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. For their part, Caitliceach_r has told followers that they support Ukraine.
One of the accounts promoted by Caitliceach_r, 1400.800v2 (the “v2” typically indicates that an earlier version of the account was removed by moderators), posted a video in December that began with a clip from a speech that then-President Trump gave in Warsaw, Poland, in 2017. “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” Trump says, before fading into a montage of battle scenes from past holy wars in Europe. A text bubble pops up, with the words “It Does.”
The account owner claims to be Hungarian—though it’s unclear if it's by ancestry or birth. They have not responded to viewers who’ve asked directly in the comment section under their videos where they’re based.
This online community seems to be growing at a time when Christian nationalist ideology is attaining mainstream acceptance, particularly in the U.S., where a conservative majority on the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to a torrent of regressive opinions, including dismantling the national right to abortion. After that decision, one Christian nationalist podcaster, who has nearly 45,000 followers on Telegram, declared the current moment the “era of Christian Nationalism.” “People are thirsty for it, they are hungry for this,” he said. “We are the Christian Taliban, and we will not stop until the Handmaid’s Tale is a reality—even worse than that, to be honest,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, misogynist and reductive portrayals of women are rife within the #ChristPilled community on TikTok. Views about abortion, feminism, or “traditional family values” are often expressed through the “Trad Wife Wojak,” a female version of the sad internet character “Wojak” with blond hair and a modest floral dress. She’s meant to represent women who embrace submission to their spouses and take on ultra-traditional roles in their households.
One TikTok video from December, under hashtags like #Christian and #GenZ, shows Infowars’ Alex Jones dancing with a light-up fidget spinner. A quote appears, “If you ban abortion, women will die in backstreet abortions.” “Good,” the video goes on to say.
Other videos contain imagery of the Crusades, a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims between 1096 and 1291, which began to secure control of “holy sites,” like Jerusalem. Crusader imagery has often been employed by white nationalists to signify or even justify violence against Muslims in Europe around the Syrian refugee crisis. In their bios, some accounts feature the Christian motto “Deus Vult,” which translates to “God Wills” and was chanted by the Crusaders.
The slogan enjoyed a resurgence after 2012, when it was featured prominently in the video game Crusader Kings II, according to the website Know Your Meme. Fast-forward five years, and white supremacists who marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, at the violent “Unite the Right” rally were chanting it while bearing flags containing Crusader symbols. References to the Crusades were scattered through the diatribe posted online by the gunman who opened fire on two New Zealand mosques and killed 50 people.
“[These references] are used in a way to showcase the idea that they’re the kind of Catholics who would happily kill for their faith,” Lecaque said. “It’s a way to signal Islamophobia and holy war, in the worst way, while still giving them space for plausible deniability.”
VICE news identified several TikTok accounts posting under hashtags like #Christian #Orthodox or #Catholic, which incorporated a euphemism used to refer to the ethnic cleansing of Muslims.
TikTok says their moderators regularly undergo training to help them identify the latest symbols, terms, and offensive stereotypes that could be described as “hateful behavior.”
But even Crusader symbols, like the red cross on a white background, aren’t exclusively associated with the far-right—posing a challenge to social media content moderators. “They have the dual utility of being an open dog whistle and a religious symbol,” Lecaque said.
The “Sigma male” is another recurring motif and hashtag in this genre; TikTokers have glommed onto particular movie or TV characters as archetypes of self-reliant masculinity. Confusingly, given the emphasis on Christian values, many of these characters, like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, Walter White from Breaking Bad, and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, aren’t exactly paragons of virtue. These characters are associated with violence, though. One account that’s been promoted by Caitliceach_r, but has since been removed, made a video incorporating the shooting rampage scene from Taxi Driver, with the caption, “Me at my local pride parade.”
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